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Featured Review: Samsung Galaxy S5 Active (AT&T)

August 9, 2014 - Written By Alexander Maxham

Last year, Samsung did something a bit different with the Galaxy S4. They didn’t just launch a Galaxy S4 and a Galaxy S4 Mini but also a Galaxy S4 Zoom and a Galaxy S4 Active. The Galaxy S4 Active was a really rugged smartphone that was made from the Galaxy S4 but featured a LCD display instead of AMOLED, and a slight decrease in megapixels for the camera. This year, Samsung decided to do another Active variant, even though the Galaxy S5 was already water resistant. Oh and they also made it camouflage. Which I do like, as it’s something different, but not everyone agrees with me. They also made it super rugged, I mean it’s like a tank or a Nokia phone from the early 2000s. I’ve spent the last 10 days with it, so it’s time to put all my thoughts about the device down into a review. So let’s have at it.

Specs

  • 5.1-inch 1920×1080 Super AMOLED Display
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor clocked at 2.5GHz
  • 2GB of RAM
  • 16GB of storage, plus a microSD card slot supporting up to 128GB
  • 16MP camera on the back, 2MP front-facing shooter
  • Dimensions: 145.3 x 73.4 x 8.9 mm
  • Weight: 170.1 g
  • IP67 certified – dust and water resistant up to 1 meter and 30 minutes
  • MIL-STD-810G certified – salt, dust, humidity, rain, vibration, solar radiation, transport and thermal shock resistant

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Hardware

As you can tell from the pictures throughout this review, it doesn’t really look like a regular Galaxy S5. Although I do like how this one looks. You can see there are a sort of bumpers on the corner, to keep the device protected when it hits the ground. You’ve also got physical buttons on the front, which are also rigid, and they actually do feel pretty good and clicky. I actually prefer these to the physical home button and capacitive recents/back buttons. On the back you’ve got what looks like screws or nails in each corner, but that’s just a design. The back is still removable, but you’ll want to be sure you put it back on all the way or else it won’t be water resistant.

I have to say, I think this hardware on the Galaxy S5 Active feels more premium than the Galaxy S5 did. And I’m not even sure why. I did like the back of the Galaxy S5 though, even though people thought it looked like a band-aid. I did actually like how it looked and felt in person. We do have the heart rate monitor on the back, below the camera as we did on the Galaxy S5, which is no surprise.

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When it comes to the display, it still looks amazing. It is also still the same panel as we had in the Galaxy S5 earlier this year, so that shouldn’t be a surprise. It does have a bit more bezel on there than the Galaxy S5 did, but I believe that’s to make it more rugged and indestructible, so we’ll give Samsung a pass there.

As far as button location goes, the power button is on the right side, volume rocker and an additional button on the left. The additional button is called the “Active Key”. Now by default a short press on that key brings up the activity zone. And a long press opens the camera. But you can customize them to do what ever you want, more or less. You can also have the Active key act as a shutter button. Which is something I really like.

Onto performance. Now given that the specs are exactly the same as the Galaxy S5, there shouldn’t be any issues right? Well yes. But I did notice some places where the Galaxy S5 Active actually ran better than the Galaxy S5, surprisingly. For instance, in the gallery. Samsung’s Gallery is notorious for being very slow and laggy. But when I opened it up for the first time it was almost instant. Which was a nice surprise. Since I haven’t used the Galaxy S5 for a few months now, it’s hard to remember how fast or slow the Galaxy S5’s gallery actually was.

Benchmarks

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We ran AnTuTu X on this bad boy, and we’ve posted the results up above.

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Battery Life

Battery was pretty similar to the Galaxy S5. Not amazing, but definitely enough to get you through the day and then some. Our tests consisted of 4G LTE and Wifi mixed usage. Also on auto-brightness.

Software

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This is where all the goodies come in. For the most part, the software is the same as on the Galaxy S5. So instead of rewriting Tony’s great review on the Galaxy S5, I’m going to direct you over there and talk about some of the features that are specific to the Galaxy S5 Active. One of those is the Activity Zone. Which has the Barometer, Compass, Flashlight and Stopwatch all on the same screen. Which is really helpful when going on a hike. There is also a shortcut into S Health, which is one of my all time favorite apps from Samsung. The Activity Zone does look really nice, and fits in well with Samsung’s UI, I think. And that is really the only change in software that we have on the Galaxy S5 Active.

As far as bloatware goes, there’s plenty here from AT&T. There’s the Amazon App Store, AT&T FamilyMap, AT&T Locker, AT&T Mobile Locate, AT&T Navigator, Beats Music, Caller Name ID, Device Help, DriveMode, Isis Wallet, Keeper, Lookout, Mobile Hotspot, Mobile TV, myAT&T, Usage Manager, and YP (aka YellowPages). Now many of these have been on every AT&T device for a while, but it still means that we’ve got plenty of pre-installed apps here.

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Camera

As with the Galaxy S5, we still have a 16MP camera here on the Galaxy S5 Active. Which takes pretty decent shots. And we’ve got plenty of them in the gallery down below, for those interested in checking them out.

The Good

  • Rugged: For those that work in construction or in a factory, this is a great phone, as you don’t need to worry about dropping it as it’ll probably be okay.
  • No compromises: There’s no compromises here which is pretty important, in my opinion, especially when picking up a rugged device.
  • Camera: The camera is just as good as the Galaxy S5’s camera, which isn’t surprising as it is the same sensor.

The Bad

  • Exclusivity: I say this on every exclusive device review, but exclusives suck. Especially for customers. The Galaxy S5 Active seems to be only sold on AT&T and not outside the US. Which sucks, but I bet Samsung will still sell plenty of them.
  • Battery: I was hoping for a bit larger battery since we do have a bit more bezel and room inside.

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TL;DR

The Galaxy S5 Active is basically a more rugged Galaxy S5. Which is about what we expected with the Galaxy S5 Active. I’d almost prefer this over the regular Galaxy S5, actually. But then again it’s exclusive to one carrier in one country. That’s never a good idea (even though Amazon is doing it too). face